June 13, 2012—We are Jewish New Yorkers who are angered by the growing list of New York Police Department abuses of civil liberties, and by its militarization and lack of ac-countability and transparency. Mayor Bloomberg has famously described it as “my own army,” calling it the “seventh biggest army in the world.”
The NYPD engages in broad surveillance of Muslim communities, in a massive stop-and-frisk campaign aimed at Black and Latino young men, and LGBT communities of color, and in unprovoked violence against peaceful demonstrators. A police undercover agent accompanies Muslim students on a white-water rafting trip and reports how many times they pray. Worshippers at a mosque find that their license plates have been secretly recorded. The NYPD shows the inflammatory video The Third Jihad to hundreds of police trainees and then denies it. The NYPD spies on Muslim communities well beyond city limits. The NYPD stops and frisks over 685,000 men of color each year, many repeatedly; in 90% of the cases, the police do not even find grounds for a summons. The NYPD pepper sprays and arbitrarily arrests Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, who are beaten by “white shirts”—high-ranking NYPD officers—for no action other than protesting.
The policing patterns that have become public are based on racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation/gender, and political profiling, not on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. They are systemic policies, not the rogue activities of a “few bad apples.” They violate civil liberties, traumatize the victims, and threaten the very essence of a democratic society.
These policies impact the targets’ lives in very direct ways and they shape our city. Not only do they strip people of their dignity, but they destroy the trust needed for legitimate law enforcement. People who have been abused and humiliated by the police will hesitate to seek them out to report potential evidence of real danger. Contrary to what Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly tell the public, NYPD infringements of civil liberties are actually making New York City less safe and wasting valuable resources that should be used for effective law policing.
We support the City Council bill establishing an Inspector General (IG) to oversee the NYPD in order to protect civil liberties. The bill, introduced by Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, joins three other bills in a package to require NYPD public accountability and transparency. These bills, called the Community Safety Act, and the IG bill are reasonable and important responses to abuses of power; they should create a safer city and improve the operation the NYPD. A broad coalition of advocates is mobilizing to support these bills.
The Inspector General would have independent authority to investigate and audit NYPD programs and operations and to recommend policies to promote civil liberties and prevent abuses and deficiencies. The Inspector General would keep the Police Commissioner, the Mayor, the City Council, Congress and the public informed about how the NYPD’s operations impact civil liberties and any abuses or deficiencies within the NYPD: recommending corrective action and tracking its implementation. The bill also provides a means for the public and whistle blowers to report abuses without retaliation.
Because the Inspector General, appointed by the Mayor, would have a seven-year term, the Inspector General would not be tied to a particular mayor.
An Inspector General for the NYPD supports good governance. Inspectors General are a standard and often effective feature of government agencies–including all federal agencies and most city agencies. While there are agencies (such as the Civilian Complaints Review Board) that investigate individual cases, there is currently no mechanism to provide for independent investigations of NYPD policies and procedures to ensure that it is operating effectively and consistently with the law.
We encourage the City Council to adopt this bill and its three companion bills (Intros 799, 800, 801) that would prohibit profiling by the NYPD, protect New Yorkers against unlawful searches, and require officers to identify themselves and explain themselves to the public.
Although these bills are not a panacea, they are an important step forward. They will only pass if New Yorkers mobilize to demand them, and they will only be effective if New Yorkers remain mobilized to enforce them. Many of the abuses addressed by these bills are not new in concept. They are reminiscent of the notorious COINTELPRO program of the 1960’s and ‘70s and include practices that were banned under the Handschu guidelines of 1985 that followed disclosures about NYPD infiltration and surveillance of political activists. The Handschu restrictions were abrogated at the NYPD’s request post 9/11.
A new and broad-based movement is emerging to defend civil liberties, oppose militarization of the police, and demand police accountability and transparency.
Please join us.
What you can do:
1) Attend the mass rally to end racial profiling and stop and frisk on Fathers Day June 17, 3:00 p.m. at 110 Street between 5th and Lenox in Harlem.
2) Call and visit your councilmember.
3) Host an event about the bills and the defense of civil liberties in your organization or congregation.
4) Contact Jews Against Islamophobia (JAI).
Jews Against Islamophobia (www.jewsagainstislamophobia.org) is a coalition of Jewish Voice for Peace, (www.jewishvoiceforpeace), Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (www.jfrej.org), and Jews Say No! (www.jewssayno.wordpress.com).